By Bonnie Washuk
Tough People Smart Money Writer
GREENE — HGTV’s got nothing on Christie Labrie.
Judging by what she’s done to her own home, she could star in her own show, “Decorating on the cheap with Christie.”
But her home looks far from cheap. It appears to be full of designer touches.
When Labrie moved in 13 years ago, her home was “really rough.” A single mother raising her son on a teacher’s salary, she’s done most of the finishing.
Paint is her biggest ally. “You can paint anything,” she said.
In her kitchen she’s created a stylish-but-fun country kitchen that pops with blues and playful, decorative lizards.
In her dining area a patio table has been turned into an attractive but inexpensive dining room set by adding a wooden top.
Her brass ceiling fan was dated. “I couldn’t afford a new one.” So she gave it a contemporary look by spray painting it black. “They call me the spray paint queen.”
Throughout her home, stones and seashells are displayed in clear vases. Branches dart artfully out of pottery. Both are cheap ways of decorating, she said.
In her bedroom she’s turned mismatched pieces of furniture into a coordinated set by painting them in the same soft green and lavender, giving the room a designer beach style.
Anyone can do what she’s done, Labrie insists. Giving a tour of her home, she shared some of her how-to ideas.
Kitchen happily sings
the blues
Her kitchen walls are a medium blue. “If you paint a base color like blue, gray or tan, you can add accent inexpensively,” she said. Buy a couple of expensive plates and display them on a wall plate rack, she said, pointing to colorful blue and orange plates on her wall.
Shoppers can get a decent plate rack for about $10. “If you see one on sale and you don’t like the color, get it. For 99 cents you can spray paint it” the color you want.
Playful lizards hang on her kitchen island, wall and refrigerator, giving the kitchen a kind of festive feeling. Her counter is a dark blue laminate. “A lot of people get black countertops of marble or granite.” Hers cost much less, “and I love blue.”
On her island and kitchen bar she made off-white tiles more interesting by painting a few blue.
Some of her cupboards are open, allowing her to show off pretty dishware. She’s turned dowels into plate holders. To the right are plate holders that show off fancier plates. “You buy just a couple of pretty ones for display. I have a snowman for Christmas, butterfly or dragonfly for the spring and summer. Just change it out and you’re good to go.”
One of her cupboard doors features an eye-catching stained-glass inset. “If you have a raised-panel door and you want a little pop of color, pop out the raised panel with a hand saw,” she said. Then go to a stained glass store with the measurements. The store will cut you a piece to insert in the door with caulking or clips, Labrie said. “For $40 you can buy a piece of glass. The glass is gorgeous.”
Her kitchen ceiling was textured. She changed it by scraping it down, then hired a carpenter to install bead board on the ceiling “to dress it up.”
Shells, rocks become art
On her dining room table are decorative runners of whites, spring greens and aqua. The centerpiece is a bowl holding artifacts from nature, along with small blue and green balls. On her dining buffet is a matching runner holding three glass vases. On the wall are framed black-and-white ocean prints. Two of the vases hold sea shells, the middle one holds beach pebbles.
“I got this at Pier I. You can buy three clear vases at Wal-Mart or TJ Maxx really cheap,” Labrie said. “I change them up,” she said. “Now I have shells in them. For the winter I go outside and get pine cones. I get red berries on branches. In the fall you could put acorns in.” Using nature is a beautiful and cheap way to create a decorate. “It doesn’t cost anything. It’s not fake flowers; it’s natural and pretty.”
She changes the table and buffet runners with the season.
Her light that hangs over the table was on clearance for $20. “This was silver. I brought it home and spray painted so it would match. Ninety-nine cents for spray paint.
In her living room is a dark-colored couch flanked with small tables she updated by applying tiles to the tops. In a corner is a large plant that holds small white lights. Small white lights are not just for Christmas. Fancy restaurants and country clubs use white lights to decorate year-round.
She has Ansel Adams prints on her walls. “They’re from an old calendar,” she said. Wait until January and buy a calendar “dirt cheap.” Cut out and frame pictures you like. “If the picture is too small for the frame, buy a mat. You can change the pictures with the seasons. You can go to D&R Framing on Center Street in Auburn and for $5 buy a frame. … You can put anything, — wallpaper, old calendars, material — in a frame.”
Sometimes material can be expensive. Labrie recommends buying material on clearance, or looking for material in different ways: a quilt or shower curtain on sale, for instance. A decorative cloth shower curtain can be cut into squares and framed, as Labrie has artfully done to decorate the walls in her living room. A quilt can be turned into curtains or a shower curtain. Labrie made her shower curtain from a Duvet cover for a comforter. “If you buy them on clearance, all you do is put grommets (small metal holes to hang the hooks through) in to make a shower curtain out of them.”
Paint turns mismatched furniture into bedroom set
In Labrie’s bedroom are two dressers, a bench and a headboard — all matching green and lavender. “None of this matched,” Labrie said. “I couldn’t afford a bedroom set. I just painted them the same color.”
She loved a bed she saw at The Pottery Barn, but couldn’t afford the $1,200 price. Her father made her headboard.
“That was my baby bureau,” she said pointing to a dresser. Her nightstand came from the Salvation Army. After painting the pieces she sanded each a little “to make it look a little worn and give it a cottage look.”
She bought new silver hardware knobs for the dressers and closet door. She hung a large mirror over one of the dressers. She bought the mirror for $20. “I spray painted (the frame) silver.”
Labrie says she doesn’t have an art or design background. “I’m challenged artistically,” she said. “I can’t draw anything.”
But clearly she has a strong interest in interior design, a vivid imagination and a keen eye for color and design. “I watch those shows on HGTV. I feel like they’re my friends,” Labrie said. “I know them all: ‘Splash of Color,’ ‘Devine Design’ and ‘Designed to Sell.’” Her favorite designer is HGTV’s David Bromstad.
She gets ideas from those shows. “I watch it and say, ‘I can do that.’”
Christie’s tips
Painting is the cheapest way to breath new life into a room. But don’t buy cheap paint. It won’t get the job done right, recommends Christie Labrie. She uses paint from Lewiston Paint and Wallpaper and Sherwin Williams.
Get a Purdy. Good brushes are more expensive, but if they’re taken care of they can be used again, and the job will be better, Labrie said. She swears by one brand. “Get a Purdy.”
She’ll answer home decorating questions. Labrie has gone to several of her friends’ homes and helped them with interior decorating. A Montello Elementary School teacher in Lewiston, Labrie’s interested in building a part-time home decorating business during the summer. Her e-mail:

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